Nothing Comes Easily: Althea Vestrit

Ship_of_Magic_Cover

Character: Althea Vestrit

Text: The Liveship Traders trilogy by Robin Hobb.

(Some mild spoilers)

Althea still sometimes felt she needed someone’s permission simply to be herself. Men seemed to sense that in her. Nothing came easily. She felt the struggle was as constant as her breathing

Upon her father’s death, the families ship the Vivacia is passed down to her elder sister Keffria and through her, her husband Kyle Haven. Althea is distraught, having always anticipated that her beloved father would name her captain, despite her youth and gender. She feels betrayed and hurt – but mostly terrified that she will be forced to cut ties with her  ship.

(I should note here for those unfamiliar with the series, the Vivacia is a Liveship meaning she is a sentient ship. Made from a mysterious wood named “wizardwood” Vivacia has living memories and can communicate via the figurehead she uses as her “body”. Liveships bond with the Trader families who own them, sharing their emotions and their experiences)

 

AventuriersMer1_C1

Althea and the Liveship Vivacia.

 

Her mother Ronica knows that Kyle is not the best choice — he is quick to anger and too concerned with obtaining wealth at any cost —but feels he is their only option to ensure their families survival during uncertain times. Ronica attempts to explain to Althea their situation but the hurt is too deep. Althea begs to be allowed to serve on the ship in any capacity:

I don’t care. I don’t care, really, if I am a pauper or not. Yes, I dreamed that Vivacia would be mine. Because she is mine, Mother, in a way that I cannot make you understand…Vivacia’s heart is mine, and I am hers. I look forward to no better marriage than that. Keep whatever coin she brings in, let all say she belongs to Keffria. Just let me sail her. That’s all I’m asking, Mother, Keffria. Just let me sail her and I’ll be no trouble to you, I won’t dispute your will in all else.

Kyle denies her wishes, claiming she will bring shame to the family for her wild ways. He demands that she settle down and marry – become a “respectable lady”. Of course, Althea wants none of that and instead vows to prove her ability as a sailor and reclaim the Vivacia.

Althea is incredibly headstrong, admittedly sometimes painfully so. She is so determined in her mission that she can occasionally overlook what is going on with other people. She can be selfish, and inadvertently cruel, especially to her mother and sister. She is also fiercely independent to the point of refusing assistance, even when those who offer only mean well. All of these traits could result in a selfish and unlikable character,  yet it is because of all these apparent “flaws” that she is such an exciting and endearing heroine.

In a town (and culture) where a woman’s only real prospects are to marry well, Althea’s determination to follow her own path is refreshing -as are all her flaws and mistakes. She is not a princess, she is not a damsel in distress. She does not charm men with her feminine beauty, nor does she actively look for a romantic partner. In many ways she is not a conventional heroine. She drinks (sometimes quite a lot), occasionally partakes in recreational drug use and has (and enjoys) premarital sex.

She proves herself capable of hard work, taking  the position as ship’s “boy” and completes all of the hard, dirty and back breaking work associated with working on a ship. She is good at her work, but only because she works hard. Nothing is granted to her, she does not have any magical powers, she is not blessed with super strength.

“Anyone can see you’re worth your pay. You were always a good sailor, Althea. And your time on the Reaper has made you an even better one”.

Rather than falling into the trope of the “exceptional woman”, Althea is an example of a well-rounded woman. A woman with many interests and talents, but one who works hard to achieve them. She is neither exceptionally beautiful nor stereotypically plain ( a trope that is often used for those female characters who take on “unfeminine” roles). While she occasionally laments that her skin is rough and weathered due to all the time spent on ships, she feels uncomfortable in skirts and silks.

Althea  is constantly in a state of struggle. While she continues to gain confidence in her ability as a sailor, she is conflicted by how this side of her identity relates to her position as a woman. Her confusion reflects what many women experience in their daily lives: if I’m too strong will I push people away, if I’m too pretty will people not take me seriously? To be a woman is to constantly need to negotiate between what is expected of you and what you desire. Althea represents this struggle so perfectly – yet she never gives up.

Althea demonstrates that yes, nothing comes easily, but if you continue to work hard to make your life (and the lives of those around you) better, things will eventually fall into place.

 

Advertisements

Princess Fianna: An Onion Knight

Character: Princess Fianna

Text: The Dragon Throne & The Unicorn Throne (Four Kingdoms Trilogy) 

‘A ruler is no better or worse than those he rules.’

DT72dpi-1500x2000Fianna is going to be queen, keeper of the Dragon Throne. That’s what she’s been brought up to expect for her entire eleven years, and only through sheer luck was there no son born to her parents to supersede that right. But as a royal princess, confident of herself and somewhat insular in her opinions, Fianna must also learn humility and the bond of knightly code, to understand the people she will rule over and who will offer her protection. But tragedy strikes in the form of Lady Marissa, whose relationship with her father blooms behind Fianna’s back and incites the girl to stand up to him. This marriage is a threat to her right to rule if it bears a son, and also a dishonour to her mother who died but a year before. Fianna will not stand by and see that woman in her mother’s place and a baby boy in her own, so she abandons the kingdom.

The marriage is the catalyst of Fianna’s suppressed anger and frustration throughout her story. She believes herself to be cruelly and callously ejected from her birthright and is haunted by this throughout most of the series. Her own aunt, bitter and deceitful, tries to manipulate her. The young pig farmer Fianna meets offers her a pure and simple friendship, then love. The royal colonel, Pealla, gives support as a kind of surrogate mother for Fianna’s necessary growth into womanhood and knighthood, taking her on as squire. Fianna is moulded by not only her own beliefs and strengths, but by the others around her, be they good or bad voices, and she is on a rollercoaster of imbalance, relying on the strength of her already courageous stomach to guide her way.

“The Prancer stepped back and studied her for a moment. Then, with a gleam in his eye, he said, ‘All unicorns know the Land. Few humans do. But no unicorn knows how to brew ale.’

‘I’m glad humans have some use.’

‘Only those who can brew ale.”

When she meets the Prancer – a unicorn whose own mother died and unicorn twhose father is the leader of their herd – is when her life is turned upside down, and her natural loyalties (dragons, not unicorns) are shredded and challenged in equal measure. Some of the sweetest and most endearing moments – not to mention some of the funniest – of Fianna’s journey are the ones with the Prancer, and they’re the ones that convince the reader she is the right one for the job, it’s only herself holding her back.

Fianna is a brilliant onion of a character. You could easily despise her entitlement, extreme stubbornness and refusal to see reason, but absolutely understand how these things have come to be in her life, how much of a diamond in the rough she is and why she makes the choices she does. She acts from the good of her heart, and though her flaws sometimes override the good she accomplishes, you know she has that spark in her, you know she understands morality, and all she needs is that push to find the true greatness her potential hints at. You see her lose her way time and time again, but it makes her recovery all the more poignant.

‘I learned tonight that there are many things more important than pride. I’ve also learned that we can never assume that there will be time, enough time. That which must be said, that which must be done, cannot be allowed to wait for a right moment. That moment might never come.’


Read the Author Spotlight interview with indie author Chrys Cymri!

Brienne the Beauty

Character: Brienne of Tarth

Text: A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin

Image source: Watchers on the Wall

Brienne of Tarth

In keeping with the theme of female warriors, let me introduce (or perhaps reintroduce) Brienne of Tarth. Brienne’s character is relatively well known due to the phenomenal success of the HBO series Game of Thrones based upon the best selling series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. Her transformation from text to screen has been relatively well received and is for the most part, fairly true to the novels. But, as is the case with any adaption, there has been a lot to Brienne’s backstory that has been missed which is a shame because she is one of the series most fascinating characters.

Brienne is an unusual character, she doesn’t conform the stereotypical image of the fantasy heroine, nor does she represent the typical fantasy knight. Yet Brienne is both, a heroine and a knight. Brienne is unlike the other women in the series, she is not conventionally beautiful like Daenerys, Sansa or Cersei, nor is she content to adhere to traditional gender roles. From an early age, all Brienne has wanted to do was become a knight. She is tall, strong and an exceptional fighter. She is also brave and honest, all traits which would make her an ideal knight. However, due to her gender Brienne is not permitted to join the knighthood, a fact that causes her much distress.

Brienneoftarth

[Image source: HBO]

Brienne is first introduced in the second novel of the series, A Clash of Kings. Catelyn Stark has just arrived at Renly’s camp and there is a tourney of sorts occurring. Catelyn watches as a large knight, armoured in blue beats the King’s favourite:

“His steel was a deep cobalt, even the blunt Morningstar he wielded with such deadly effect, his mount barded in the quartered sun-and-moon heraldry of House Tarth” (A Clash of Kings).

Through the eyes of Catelyn Stark, Brienne’s character is mistaken as a man. It is not until she asks why the crowd appears to dislike him so much that he is actually revealed to be a she.

“Because he is no man, my lady. That’s Brienne of Tarth, daughter of Lord Selwyn the Evenstar” (A Clash of Kings)

Catelyn’s horror upon realising that Brienne is in fact a woman is slightly hilarious, given that she herself has been around other female warriors (such as the Mormont women) and the concept is not entirely foreign to her. Instead what in actuality is shocking to Catelyn is how little Brienne resembles a woman, at least in the most conventional sense. When Brienne removes her helmet, Catelyn is immediately filled with pity:

“Beauty they called her…mocking. The hair beneath the visor was a squirrel’s nest of dirty straw, and her face…Brienne’s eyes were large and very blue, a young girl’s eyes, trusting and guileless, but the rest of her features were broad and coarse, her teeth prominent and crooked, her mouth too wide, her lips so plump they seem swollen. A thousand freckles speckled her cheeks and brow, and her nose had been broken more than once. Pity filled Catelyn’s heart. Is there any creature on earth as unfortunate as an ugly woman?

Can we just take a minute to reflect on that last sentence? IS there any creature on earth as unfortunate as an ugly woman?! This is such a problematic statement for so many reasons, but really goes towards expressing the unreasonable expectations we place on appearance. Martin went to painstaking detail to describe Brienne’s appearance, more so than he did many other characters. Just to push the point that Brienne is not like other women. I think it’s important to note that in this passage it is not the author saying, “Hey this woman is ugly”, its through another character (and a female one at that) who recognises those particular characteristics as “ugly”.

Brienne’s appearance is something I find both refreshing and fascinating. I have been tired of reading novel after novel that describes conventionally beautiful women with “perfect” symmetrical features, long luscious hair, sparkling eyes, unbelievable proportioned bodies…you get the idea. What difference does their appearance make on their character? On their ability? Brienne is a tough, crazy strong, bad ass fighter and a sensitive and thoughtful woman. What does it matter if she has straw like hair and a broken nose?

As the novels go on, more of her character is revealed and I really have to commend G.R.R.M on his characterisation for Brienne. We learn her unhappiness and unease in her own body, the taunts she received as a young girl (and continues to do so) but also the strength of her own resolve. Whilst she can never be a knight, she is arguably the one true knight in Westeros, honourable, determined and dedicated to doing the right thing.

I also particularly enjoy her relationship with Jaime. Like her, it is unconventional. It is not a typical love story, nor is there any indication that it will ever eventuate in one, but it is interesting none the less. The two go from extreme dislike to a—begrudging—mutual respect. The television series definitely plays it up more than was evident in the novels, but you do begin to see how Jaime’s opinion of her starts to creep into his own way of thinking. What I wouldn’t give to have the series finish with Brienne carrying Jaime in her arms, walking off into the sunset!

Game-of-Thrones-Jaime-Brienne-2_612x380_0

Brienne and Jaime Lannister

There is so much more to say about Brienne: her character subverts conventional gender expectations and what it means to be a “woman”, she challenges what a “true hero” is, but ultimately she is an incredibly strong, brave, kind, “ordinary” woman. She doesn’t have special powers, magic, or dragons. She is who she is, because she worked hard at it. And I think that is worth applauding.